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“Leave Mom out of it. And this is not about you being a woman—”

“You sure about that? Oh, and as for Mom, I will bring her into anything I want. I am not going to be like her. No goddamn way I am going to get stuck living her life of reflected glory for someone who didn’t deserve the hype.”

Tom went quiet. “I do not understand you.”

“It’s more like you don’t understand our parents.”

“Yeah, well, excuse me if I’m not in a big hurry to buy into your perspective. For one, you’re in a fucking hospital bed because you did the wrong thing in a situation where your life and the lives of others depended on you following orders. And two, thanks for taking a shit all over the two people who raised us and worked their asses off so we could end up here, arguing in this hospital. Clearly, you’re a great judge of character.”

“Whatever, Tom.” Unaware she’d sat up, she let herself fall back again on the thin pillows. “You’ve never wanted me to be your equal. Tack whatever vocabulary you want on it, that’s what’s really going on here.”

“The hell it is. You never will be like me and not because you’re a woman. It’s because you’ve got a chip on your shoulder that makes you impossible to reason with or trust on the job. But like I said, that’s over now. You’re out, Anne. Good work.”

She stared down at the bandage and felt sick about so much. “You know what’s funny? I can set my watch on you. You just have to kick me in the nuts, especially when I’m down—and don’t bother pointing out that I don’t have any. You’ve spent the last two and a half decades showing and telling me that over and over again. Your position is very clear on the subject.”

“Maybe you don’t like hearing the truth.”

“Try telling it to me, just once, and I’ll let you know what it’s like.”

There was another long, long pause. “You need to call Mom. She’s worried sick about you.”

“I don’t have the energy to help her with that.”

“Right. Because you’re having too much fun being a burden.”

“Does it look like I’m enjoying myself?”

“Call Mom.”

Once again, a standoff. And as the two of them glared across the stark room at each other, she was reminded of pretty much every single interaction they had had since she’d entered the fire academy.

With that, she and her brother had become enemies.

“Leave,” she told him. “Just get out of here. I’m tired, I hurt all over, and I’m sick of the sight of you.”

“Call Mom. That’s all I care about.”

As Tom pushed his way through the door, all of Anne’s energy funneled out of her body and she was left with a skeleton that ached covered by a bag of skin that had ants all over it. Closing her eyes, she was aware of her stomach rolling.

In the background, that alarm began beeping like it was having a seizure.

Or maybe she was having one?

Medical staff ran in, a swarm of blue and white. But as Anne thought about Danny, her brother, her job, her family, she was content to fade away and let them save her . . . or not.

She didn’t really care one way or another.

Chapter 8

And they did.

Save her, that was.

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